The field of psychiatry has been the scene of one of most powerful social revolutions in modern history. How far have we come and are there more innovations to come that could, even further, provide groundbreaking approaches to the humanization of the patient and reduce the social stigma that is still pretty embedded in society?
In his 1961 publication The Self and Others world renowned Psychiatrist RD Liang argued that in order to understand psychosis one must take into account the social, political and cultural dimensions of mental illness. Up until that point, it was widely accepted to treat people experiencing psychological distress as though it were a purely biological phenomenon that could be mitigated through a range of debilitating and abusive treatments.
Writing during the same period, Thomas Szasz in The Myth of Mental Illness noted that, “The notion of mental symptom is therefore inextricably tied to the social (including ethical) context in which it is made.”
In simple words, these doctors, thinkers and philosophers cottoned on to the fact that when someone is pushed to the edge by messed up ethical and legal practices of others within their social group, they can struggle to articulate the frustrations: particularly when everybody around them has no inkling that there is anything wrong.
In this light, a person experiencing mental illness should be not be treated as an outcast, but as someone that is sensitive to an issue that needs to be fixed. They are a living clue, someone that knows there is a problem and who can potentially find an answer that would benefit everybody else.
But how can communities benefit from this great resource if the frustrations of those suffering emotional distress are pent up inside? The first place we’d turn to is the doctor, the psychiatrist. OK, so back in the day that was a pretty bad idea. Head doctors thought that patients should be locked away and may even require electric shock ‘therapy’ in order to ‘heal’ (neutralised). But since RD Laing, Szasz and their colleagues like Joseph H. Burke took to the scene, doctors have become a more reliable place to turn to.
For example, RD Laing’s Kingsley Hall or his pupil Joseph Berke’s Arbour Crisis Centre are therapy centres where those suffering from psychological distress and therapists live alongside each other, as equals, outside of defined roles. The purpose of this flat hierarchy was to provide a space where patient and therapist could discuss the issues without there being a sense of something being ‘wrong’ with the patient.
These new approaches led not only to a generalised reduction of stigma in relation to mental health, but also to a revolution in psychotherapy that has yielded astounding results. Those who would have previously remained outcasts of society were now becoming highly effective people whose very internal struggles – now understood – had become the foundation of successful careers and highly beneficial contributions to society.
But could there be a quicker turn-around in terms of engaging the ‘problem-solver’ with the community which is experiencing the problem? With engage.re Humanity Online is exploring this question and looking at how the issue pages can result in the location where someone who is sensitive to issues in their local community can have a space where they can articulate what the problem is, who is causing it, who is being affected and what ought be done to fix it. It will be a social space, where others can gather to critically engage with the issue that has been identified, and to explore the options for resolve.
This kind of space would offer a new kind of environment for the ‘therapist’ to facilitate problem solving between the ‘self and others’; a space that would result in genuine partnerships and true innovation. This is about cracking the nut in the most constructive way possible, so that the juicy fruit within nourish all.